I want to use the following quote from Henri de Lubac’s Paradoxes of Faith in order to occasion the explanation of the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church and the distribution of wealth, yes another post on that. So here’s the de Lubac quote:
We would be more indulgent with one another, indeed, we would have more mutual love and admiration if from early on were inculcated in us the principle of the division of labor and all its consequences: division of talents, of tastes, of vocations, of orientations, of habits and all sorts of other qualities. Dialogue among us would not then be less serious, rather more peaceful. Spontaneously we would then make efforts to reach a common goal. We would then see that the Creator’s gifts to human nature are in practice irreconcilable in individual members of the human race. And we would find beauty in this in spite of all the questions, uncertainties, mutual difficulties and conflicts involved, because we would also have mutual respect and trust with an eye to a richer, subtler, and really rewording harmony. pg. 157-8
This, I would argue, is the very definition of the Social Doctrine principle of solidarity coupled with the principle of the universal destination of goods, and I want to apply it to the question of the distribution of property.
First, let me say that I am not going to go into the question of how property is distributed. This is because the Church is not exactly clear on this beyond that the state has a role, personal ownership is to be encouraged, and that the principle of subsidiarity must always be respected. ALWAYS! This means, therefore, that when you see the phrase “distribution of property” you simply may not assume that I or the Church mean the same thing as, say, Karl Marx. This is not Marxism, which has been roundly condemned by the Church over, and over, and over again.
Now onto my larger point: what de Lubac is saying is that we can alleviate society of contention by the emphasis on the “division of labor” and the interdependence of all people. The education in the division of labor leads us to the inevitable realization that all the gifts of the Creator cannot have been given to just one individual. This seems obvious, but what does this mean in the end?
Well, it means that for all the brilliance of an artist, a laborer who has truly poured out their very personhood into that which they produce rightly making it theirs, despite this fact, someone made his brush; someone made his paints; someone invented the technology for the light bulb that shone over his work; someone flips the switch at the power plant that provides for the heat in his studio as he works; the work of the artist was made possible by the work of hundreds of thousands of other souls who have done their work well before the artist was a glimmer in his parents eyes.
While it is absolutely true that the individual can claim the fruit of their labor as their own, it is not true that this is an absolute claim, for the very simple reason that many hands go into producing the conditions that make one’s labor possible and thus the fruit.
What’s more, the labor of previous generations that makes our private property possible today is not just some static event in the past. It is not just that Thomas Edison improved the light bulb that makes what I’m doing now possible, typing away as I am on a computer, but that this invention of his has been preserved over time. We are able to do what we do because of the labor of people right now…and now…and now…and, yes, now. There is a constancy about the labor that makes my private property possible. There are the human forces of will and memory that are engaged at every turn of every day that allow all of us to own the things we do. The labor that makes the beer I’m drinking possible is indeed a “division of talents, of tastes, of vocations, of orientations, of habits and all sorts of other qualities.”
The self-made man is a myth. And the notion that our private property is ours because we are the sole cause of its coming into existence is a fallacy. We are not our own.
Private property is defended by the Church for reasons that have to do with the extension of our personality, yes. But ultimately private property is about the preservation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which for a Catholic means sanctity. Those things that we own that do not directly lend towards life, liberty, and sanctity are less ours than we would like to think. Once we begin to understand this, then, the distribution of property, which must begin with us, can happen all at once and without governmental force.
For now, we can just hope with Henri de Lubac for a “really rewarding harmony” amongst men, but our hope must turn into faith and that faith ought to animate action in love, which always bring us back to Christ Jesus. We can look for grand schemes in the Social Doctrine of the Church, ways and means to bring about some Christic Utopia. But this is not the point. The point is to introduce, foster, and cultivate the love of Christ so that, again as de Lubac desires, we might have “more mutual love and admiration.”